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Cardinal Reinhard Marx of the Archdiocese of Munich and Freising announced on Friday that he has offered Pope Francis his resignation in response to the clerical sexual abuse crisis in Germany. The former president of the German bishops’ conference did not offer to resign from his Vatican appointments, and used the occasion to repeat his support for the controversial synodal path underway in the country.

Marx, who is 67, said he offered the pope his resignation two weeks ago as a means of taking personal responsibility for the “for the catastrophe of the sexual abuse by Church officials over the past decades.”

In his letter, which the archdiocese released in several languages, Marx described the Church in Germany as “at a dead end which, and this is my paschal hope, also has the potential of becoming a turning point.”

Cardinal Reinhard Marx. Credit: Wolfgang Roucka, Erzbischöfliches Ordinariat München/CC BY-SA 3.0


Marx wrote to the pope on May 21, saying that while independent investigations into sexual abuse in German dioceses have highlighted institutional and systemic failures, he felt compelled to take personal responsibility for his part in “remaining silent, neglecting to act and over-focussing on the reputation of the Church.”

“In essence, it is important to me to share the responsibility for the catastrophe of the sexual abuse by Church officials over the past decades. The investigations and reports of the last ten years have consistently shown that there have been many personal failures and administrative mistakes but also institutional or ‘systemic’ failure.”

Marx did not offer to resign as a cardinal, nor as a member of Pope Francis’ Council of Cardinal Advisors, which is responsible for the reform of the Vatican constitution. Nor did he offer to resign as head of the Vatican's Council for the Economy.

Pope Francis has not yet accepted the resignation, the cardinal said. Marx’s offer to resign comes after Hamburg Archbishop Stefan Hesse offered to resign in March after being named in an independent report in the Archdiocese of Cologne, where he served as vicar general.

Last week, the Vatican announced that Pope Francis had authorized an apostolic visitation of the Cologne archdiocese.

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Marx, who stepped down as president of the German bishops’ conference last year, used his letter to reiterate his support for the so-called “synodal path” currently underway in the country.

“A turning point out of this crisis is, in my opinion, only possible if we take a ‘synodal path,’” wrote Marx to the pope, “a path which actually enables a ‘discernment of spirits’ as [the pope] has repeatedly emphasised and reiterated in [his] letter to the Church in Germany.”

The controversial synodal way has led to repeated clashes between the German bishops and Rome. The synodal path’s working groups have called for changes to Church teaching and discipline on a number of issues, including the ordination of women, intercommunion with Protestants, and end to clerical celibacy, and the blessing of same-sex unions by the Church.

The German bishops have repeatedly called for an end to final Roman authority on questions of doctrine and discipline, in favor of a federal model for the Church. Pope Francis has spoken of he “dramatic concern” and the German synodal plans.

In his letter to the Church in Germany in 2019, Francis warned the bishops against giving in to “a new Pelagianism” that would “tidy up and tune the life of the Church, adapting it to the present logic.”

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Francis urged them to avoid becoming a “well organized and even ‘modernized’ ecclesiastical body, but without soul and evangelical novelty.” 

Shortly thereafter, the Congregation for Bishops issued a forensic rejection of the Germans’ synodal plan, its subject matter, structures, and proposed outcomes. 

The German bishops have continued with their synodal plans, leading senior cardinals to openly warn about the possibility of schism.

In recent weeks, tension between Rome and Germany escalated still further after German clergy across the country staged a day mass disobedience, blessing hundreds of same-sex unions on May 10, in protest of a recent instruction from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith which said such blessings are not theologically possible.

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